I'm glad I read this graphic novel because it meant discovering it contains 1) a fun sci-fi/action/adventure/conspiracy storyline; 2) a cute interraciI'm glad I read this graphic novel because it meant discovering it contains 1) a fun sci-fi/action/adventure/conspiracy storyline; 2) a cute interracial romance; 3) snazzy art; and 4) a scene where a character wakes from a wet dream and washes the come out of his shorts. Uh...guess what I'll be moving from the Junior Readers to the Young Adult section first thing tomorrow morning?...more
Here's the whole of my experience with video games: when I was growing up in the '90s and almost every other kid I knew was getting a Nintendo or a SeHere's the whole of my experience with video games: when I was growing up in the '90s and almost every other kid I knew was getting a Nintendo or a Sega or a PlayStation, my parents bought me a console called Socrates. Socrates was a robot who looked kind of like the one from Short Circuit, and all of the (preloaded, unexpandable) games in his system were designed to teach you about math and spelling and other such crunchy, educational things. This was the only gaming system I was ever allowed to have—just like Reader Rabbit was the first, and for a long time the only, computer game permitted me.
Which is not to say I was omg horribly deprived or anything. Just: I never developed an interest in video games, and I still don't have one—the only modern game I think I've played is Rock Band, and when I play that at parties I always try to position myself as the singer because I lack the hand-eye coordination to succeed at any of the instruments. That's the price of a childhood without video games, right there. I can, however, shout my way through a mean “Ballroom Blitz.” (“All right, fellas, let's goooooooooo!”)
So: my interest in video games = nil. Nevertheless, I was enthralled by Bissell's treatise on their cultural importance. Like an extended version of Chuck Klosterman's fabulous essay on Saved By the Bell (which I also wasn't allowed to watch—no cartoons, either) from Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Bissell combines examples of what video games have meant to him with an exploration of what larger significance they have or might one day hope to achieve. I may have even been at an advantage, having no idea what Bissell was talking about: I've seen some other reviewers complain that, for example, the long section where he takes the reader step-by-step, moment-by-moment through the opening of the first Resident Evil game is too much of a rehash if you've played it. I haven't, and therefore I found it fascinating to experience this paradigm-shifting game along with Bissell's younger self.
Reading Extra Lives didn't make me want to rush out and buy a [insert name of cool new video game console here:], just like that essay in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs didn't make me want to track down old episodes of Saved By the Bell. (And thank god. Do I really need more ways to waste time? No. I have the internet, thanks.) But I always love thoughtful explorations of how/why dumb stuff can matter to people. I know this sounds like circular logic, but: the stuff that matters matters. I can has my sociology degree nao?
Speaking of dumb stuff that matters to me: I had one of the best book/music fusion experiences while reading this. My copy came in at the library the same day I got the new Arcade Fire album, The Suburbs, and the two go beautifully together, both evoking this sense of isolation among sprawl and summoning up images of post-apocalyptic landscapes. (A theme in many video games—maybe I am missing out?) “Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains”—yum. I haven't had two disparate works work so well together since the Christmas I was given both Neil Gaiman's Stardust and Sarah McLachlan's Touch. You just try reading that book and listening to the song “Vox”—it's better than The Wizard of Oz coupled with Dark Side of the Moon, I swear....more
Dystopias are tough. To live in—that’s a given. But also to write in such a way that seems different enough from the present to make an impact, but enDystopias are tough. To live in—that’s a given. But also to write in such a way that seems different enough from the present to make an impact, but enough of a logical extension of current circumstances as to feel eerily plausible. Nineteen Eighty-Four was written more than sixty years ago, but—aside from the title, anyway—it still feels like it could be a future lurking just around the corner. A little more warrantless wiretapping, a bit of spyware, a few extra security cameras, the Homeland Security Act—we still tremble at the feet of Big Brother.
The genius thing about Super Sad True Love Story is that it takes that idea and brings it forward to a time and place where Big Brother is also a reality TV show. Let me clarify that some more: Big Brother is a TV show that draws millions of viewers every week while according to various (and I’m sure 100% accurate) studies, one in four Americans read a whopping zero books last year. Maybe that’s, like, post-modern or something? I don’t know. I’m stuck on it being kind of depressing.
Super Sad True Love Story could be a real downer, too, as it takes place in an America that is deeply in debt, where readers are a dying breed, where people can connect more easily to the internet than to each other, where terrorism is a constant fear, where love may be an impossibility. Yet like all great satirists, Shteyngart brilliantly shuffles the laugh lines and the scares. I was frequently terrified while reading this book, but I was also exhilarated, hopeful. Because while those statistics about American readers make me queasy, I still believe in the power of the written word. Maybe through Shteyngart writing about this possible future world, and through our reading about it, we can exorcise it, banish it. These fearful shadow-futures can return to the status of only-stories, held safe between the pages of a well-read novel....more
While I was reading this book, I started indulging in little fantasies. Mine were a bit different from the protagonist, Sandy's, whose bad-porn-like dWhile I was reading this book, I started indulging in little fantasies. Mine were a bit different from the protagonist, Sandy's, whose bad-porn-like daydreams (fucking the plumber! classic!) are her only escape from her stultifying marriage to New Jersey dry cleaning magnate Norman Pressman. (Ooh, sneaky pun there, Judy.) For example:
Sandy was staring out the window when Norman came back from walking the dog. "He did three sticks...or maybe four. I don't remember."
"Norman, are you feeling all right?"
"Yes. No. There was a suspicious character lurking at the end of the block. He tried to... I didn't get a very good look at him. He was probably a ductla. It'll all be better when we move to the new house."
"Maybe you should go to bed."
"All right... Maybe we both should."
"I don't have my diaphragm in."
"Come on, San. I'm feeling it. Are you feeling it?" With a sudden movement, he pressed his face against her neck. Sandy threw her mind back to the Rambler with Shep. "You smell so good, San," Norman said, nuzzling her. His forehead was slick with sweat. In the doorway, Banushka started growling.
Sandy tried to squirm away. "At least let me put in my diaphragm."
"I DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR FUCKING DIAPHRAGM." Norman stared up at her, his eyes wild and red. His mouth was open in a snarl.
Sandy shrieked and stumbled back. His fingernails were digging into her wrist. Sandy grabbed onto the nightstand and tugged her arm free. Norman was still advancing, snarling and hissing, but his movements seemed drunken, uncoordinated. Great strings of spittle dripped down his chin, along with something viscous and black.
When he lunged at her, Sandy didn't think, but simply grabbed the can of Lysol and sprayed him full in the face.
Norman collapsed on the floor, howling like an animal. Sandy vaulted past him into the next room. She couldn't decide what to do. Call the police? Somehow this seemed a little above Officer Hubanski's pay grade.
She was still hesitating by the phone when Norman lurched into the living room. His posture was hunched, his arms hanging down like an ape's. His eyes were bloodshot and wild. Sandy sucked in a shaky breath. Nothing her mother had told her had prepared her for this. Still, she knew what she had to do.
When Norman launched himself at her, Sandy grabbed a 9-iron out of her lemon yellow golf bag and swung it at his head with all her might.
A few seconds later, Norman was lying dead on the floor, and Sandy was standing over him, his blood and brain matter decorating her blouse.
Just like Jackie Kennedy, she thought.
Yeah, so. My imagination's a bit more...violent than Sandy's. Possibly I should talk to someone about that.
In all seriousness, though: I liked this book. It was tart and sharp and realistic—painfully so. I liked that Blume never inserted herself (heh) into the narrative: the whole book takes place in Sandy's (half-)brain, so we never get the relief of leaving her narrow world to a place where we might look down upon it and make smug authorial or readerly judgments. It's suffocating being stuck with Sandy in 1970 New Jersey, in that awful "first" home with Norman. I was seriously longing for some zombie mayhem by the end, or even just a plain, old-fashioned knee applied to Norman's tiny, old-fashioned balls. You know if someone like Nora Ephron made this book into a movie, Sandy would kick Norman to the curb at the end, steal Shep's Porsche, and drive off into the sunset with the top down while "I'm Every Woman" or something blasted from the speakers. But Blume's got a lot more restraint. The novel she's written is frustrating, but I think that's entirely the point. This whole book is a stifled scream....more
Sometimes I worry that there's something recursive—or even, yes, vaguely masturbatory—about reading books about books. But I love them; I read them coSometimes I worry that there's something recursive—or even, yes, vaguely masturbatory—about reading books about books. But I love them; I read them constantly; I may have what you'd call a bit of a problem. Perhaps the reason I can't seem to let a literary satire or reader's memoir pass me by is that I know from the start that—to very loosely paraphrase Woody Allen—I'll be reading a book about a subject I love: books.
Last year it was Steve Hely's How I Became a Famous Novelist that earned my ardor. The target of Hely's affectionate skewering are the "literary" blockbusters that tend to cling like limpets to the top of The New York Times' bestseller list. As part of a get-rich-quick/spurned-lover's-revenge scheme, Hely's protagonist devises a formula for bestsellerdom and swiftly hammers out his literary masterpiece, The Tornado Ashes Club. Yes, that title alone should be enough to do it: I'll pause for a moment here to let your snort and cringe and remember your book club's worst excesses.
Fortunately, those past mistakes can be remedied by Adam Langer's The Thieves of Manhattan, which has a bit of old school adventure and a dash of film noir thrown in with its playful poking at the rather ripe target of memoirs. Ian Minot, a sad-sack, down-on-his-luck barista—a.k.a, an unpublished writer—finds himself embroiled in scheme (those pesky buggers are everywhere!) to rewrite a stranger's failed novel as a TRUE STORY starring none other than Ian Minot. When this exciting and heartwarming tale lands on the bestseller lists, Ian, the plan goes, will then reveal that it was all fake--thus, says his new benefactor, humiliating the publishing executives who did them both wrong. Sounds foolproof, right?
Of course things get completely out of control, in an enjoyable madcap Hitchcockian style. But what really made me stop and savor The Thieves of Manhattan—and How I Became a Famous Novelist, as well—were the examinations of the creative urge and the question of how to honestly express oneself in a commercial world, artfully sprinkled amongst the shenanigans. A satire that isn't entirely cynical—that seems as rare and delicate a creature as a memoir that really is entirely true.
So, fine. In the spirit of all the honesty we're cultivating here, I'll admit: I did not "stop and savor" The Thieves of Manhattan at all. I raced through it in less than a day. Like a certain type of lie, leaping off the tongue, it wasn't something I could help. It felt too damn good.
[Honest confession No. 2: Effusive review + moderate rating = I wrote this for work.]...more
I didn't like this book much, and my not liking of it makes me feel like an uncultured, anti-intellectual ass in some respects. This feels like the kiI didn't like this book much, and my not liking of it makes me feel like an uncultured, anti-intellectual ass in some respects. This feels like the kind of book that, in order to be considered an intelligent, sophisticated person, I should look on with admiration. It's about real, salt-of-the-earth folks living in the Ozarks! It takes family drama to an extreme, and violence to an extreme as well—kind of like Cormac McCarthy if he remembered that women actually exist! Shouldn't I be constructing lines about how gritty and real it is right about now?
I don't know. Maybe it is true to life: the author is from the Ozarks, and I'm sure he knows his setting well. But I have a hard time fully believing his depiction of it, and here's why: this is yet another novel about “real” “poor” “working class” people in which no one ever has any fun, or tells a joke, or seems to enjoy themselves one bit. All the characters in this book are more of the same stern-faced, taciturn folk who crop up in literary works of this type—I think I'm meant to find their stoicism noble or something. But I have a hard time buying that there are these entire communities of people who go through their whole lives simply being stoic about their lots in life and not doing anything to make their time here more enjoyable. In my experience, hard times often birth wonderfully dark and bitter senses of humor, and elaborate storytelling is crafted as a way to fill the cold, harsh hours. Not the people in this book, though: they just shiver and stare moodily into the distance and maybe ponder that time, ten years ago or so, when they went swimming. Damn, if that wasn't the best time of their entire lives!
What else am I sick of? Man, I pondered long and hard, trying to think of a delicate way to say this, but I failed, so. Let's just lay it out there. I'm sick of straight men writing lesbians. Not across the board or anything—that would be seriously hypocritical, as I'm a straight woman who loves to write about gay men (although I do think there's a subtle distinction to be made about the implications of each of those things, considering each group's current place in society. Or at least action/adventure-oriented society). But I am sick of straight men who seem to think that the only way they can write a tough, kickass woman is to make her a lesbian. Do they think a woman can only be relatable if she eats pussy? Do they think anyone who likes cock—so, straight ladies and gay men—is automatically made of weaker stuff, and thus can't hold up a narrative that requires him or her to take a beating and stand up for him or herself? I feel like these male writers have to disclaim the tough women they write: “But see, she digs chicks (just like we do), so that explains her toughness!” I'm sorry, but: fuck you.
Woodrell is probably having heaped on him more than his fair share of my anger about these things, but it's become a pattern I've noticed, and I'm really, really sick of it. Instead of this same tired B.S., here are some things I would like to see:
1. More books about “ordinary” people, or about things other than the problems of urban-dwelling rich people. 2. More books about the above in which the characters are portrayed as something other than humorless stoic statues. 3. More books about awesome lesbians in which the characters' sexuality doesn't seem exploitive or feel like a “helpful” footnote. 4. More books in which women (and men) can kick ass and still like giving blowjobs.
Okay, sometimes this thing were I get a lot of free books through my work can be both a blessing and a curse. Because often, something like this willOkay, sometimes this thing were I get a lot of free books through my work can be both a blessing and a curse. Because often, something like this will fall into my lap totally gratis, and while I would never actually buy it, when I haven't paid I'm all, “Haha, omg: it's time travel genderfuck RPF! This I have to read! It's gonna be hilarious!”
Um, no, it's not. It will be misogynistic and gross, though. *time travels, switches sex, and pats past!self on the head* Have fun, kid....more
ACT I Trin: Don't you just love library book sales? So many wonderful works of literature! I hope I can find a copy of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall! (Approximately four seconds pass.) Trin: Hahaha, check out all these romance novels. Can you BELIEVE these? Look, this one's called My Big Fake Green-Card Wedding! Isn't that amazing? Lily: LOL. Trin: Haha, omg, listen to the first line of the cover blurb! "She might be the last twenty-nine-year-old virgin in Greece, but Melina Kostos did not need her overprotective father and brothers handpicking her husband!" This is hilarious! Lily: LOL. Trin: It's only 50 cents! I totally need to buy this, right? Buy it and read it for the LOLs? Lily: LOL. Totally. (Trin buys the book)
ACT II (Greece! A country the author has absolutely been to and can write about with accuracy!) Melina: I want to be in America! Okay by me in America! Everything free in America! Adam: Childcare isn't free, strange woman I just met in an elevator. Melina: You are American? I am a Greek woman, from Greece. Adam: I am an international businessman on an international business trip! Melina: *swoons* Adam: Pity I have to go home to take care of my daughter so my bitch of an ex-wife can go on her honeymoon. How can she be so outrageously demanding? I'll have to get a nanny! Melina: You don't need a nanny! You need a wife! Adam: LOL. You offering? Melina: If you help me get a green card, I will cook for you, clean for you, provide free childcare, and completely ensure that this book won't be challenging any gender roles. Adam: Sounds like a pretty good offer, sweetheart. Melina: Wait! No touchies. And you gotta meet my dad. Er, I mean. You must meet my father. I will now repeat this statement in Greek.
Melina's Father: So tell me, why do you want to marry my Greek daughter?*** Adam: Whoa, she's GREEK? I, like, totally didn't get that. It went straight over my head. Melina: Straight over your...head? What means this phrase? Adam: Will you let me marry your Greek daughter if I pretend I've gotten her knocked up? Melina's Father: It is a pity I cannot KILL the father of my future grandchildren!
(America) Melina: Oh no! I must continue to resist my husband! And yet...if only I could have the courage to explore the curves at his lithe waist, to run my fingers through the golden-brown curls on his very masculine chest, or to inhale his masculine scent of shaving lotion and soap?*** For I am a red-blooded Greek woman, and he is just so very, very...masculine. Adam: Oh no! I want my Greek wife, not just as a nanny and housemaid...but as a wife! The kind one is allowed to have sex with ALONG with using as a nanny and a maid! I never imagined that I could come to want the spouse from my marriage of convenience, because apparently I have not absorbed any pop culture at all over the last 20 years! Melina: At least I am Greek, and thus have an excuse. Adam's Daughter: THIS BOOK NEEDS AN ADORABLE MOPPET! LOVE ME!
(Melina and Adam go to look at erotic statuary.) Melina: This is too much for my 29-year-old Greek virgin self! TAKE ME! Adam: Oh, thank goodness - I was beginning to think you were from Lesbos! (There is fade-to-black fucking.) Adam: OMG! Why didn't you tell me you were a virgin? I'm going to proceed to feel so guilty for robbing you of your innocence in front of the erotic statuary that I'll snub you so you think I think you're a whore! Melina: In Greece, we are hot-blooded and would never do such a thing! But this is AMERICA, so why don't we continue to have stupid misunderstandings to pad out the rest of this novel? Adam: Sounds good! But don't you think we should maybe have a couple of INS agents show up and be ridiculous and unthreatening for a few pages? Melina: Sure. It's better than having your daughter show up again!
(Many misunderstandings and a couple of inept INS agents later...) Adam: Okay, this thing is over 200 pages. Let's stop misunderstanding each other now. Melina: I would like to start by understanding your penis. Adam: Nope, this is one of those rigorously non-porny romance novels. We'd just fade to black again. Melina: All right, then: since women love weddings, let's wrap this up by getting married a SECOND time! Adam: Sounds good! Women also love babies, right? Melina: I guess so...why? Adam: I knocked you up the very first time we had sex. Melina: Just what every Greek woman wants! And hey, that reminds me. Whatever happened to those INS agents? Adam's Daughter: I KILLED THEM AND DRANK THEIR LIFEBLOOD FROM THEIR PULSING NECK STEMS. Adam&Melina: Aww! That's adorable!
ACT III/EPILOGUE Trin: That was awful! It wasn't even that funny - it was just boring! How can people read these over and over again? Gosh, I'll tell you, I have certainly learned my lesson. I'm sure I'll never ever ever read a book I know will be bad just because I think it'll be funny again! Lily: LOL. LOL. LOL. Trin: *shoots Greedo first*
*Yes, I am a chick. But I have sort of always wanted to be Han Solo. Don't ruin my moment. **Characterization may be sacrificed for humorous effect. If you forgive me, Lily, I'll let you take a spin in the Millennium Falcon. ***Actual line from the book....more
Rich’s books of humorous sketches—especially Free-Range Chickens—totally cracked me up. However this, his debut novel, disappointed me. The plot soundRich’s books of humorous sketches—especially Free-Range Chickens—totally cracked me up. However this, his debut novel, disappointed me. The plot sounded promising: Seymour, an unpopular nonentity at his New York private school, is befriended/falls into the clutches of rich, deeply fucked up con artist Elliot Allagash. Sounds sort of like The Great Gatsby if Gatsby were evil, or The Catcher in the Rye if Holden had the emotional energy to scheme. (Note: I said sort of.) I usually love that type of thing. But this book is just...airless. It’s predictable and not that funny—certainly nowhere near as amusing as anything in Free-Range Chickens. Rich propels the narrative along pretty well, and the book is a fast read, but when I finished I realized that he had never made me care about the eponymous character at all. I think that’s a problem: if Elliot managed to charm Seymour enough to suck him in, he should be able to do the same for the reader. Otherwise Seymour is just a chump, and Elliot Allagash isn’t worth having a novel named after him....more
“Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them,” as the mostly-accurate subtitle explains. The parts it was accurate to were by far my fa“Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them,” as the mostly-accurate subtitle explains. The parts it was accurate to were by far my favorites: heeee, academics. The sections about Uzbekistan, however, mostly just taught me that I don’t want to go to Uzbekistan, and the final chapter on the original The Possessed (by Dostoevsky, a book also known as Demons) made me think that Batuman’s editor might have told her she needed another chapter, so Batuman stuck one of her old papers in. So: fun, if uneven.
Side note: Roz Chast should do more book covers; it always makes me want to read whatever they grace....more